ATLANTA – You know a college basketball game was exciting when NBA players are still trash talking each other 24 hours later.
On Wednesday night, the Knicks knocked off the Hawks for the second time this season and picked up win No. 4 when they defeated Atlanta 112-107. After trailing at the half by three, the Knicks outscored the Hawks 35-18 in the third quarter and were able to hang on down the stretch.
But before the game, all the former Kentucky Wildcats and Duke Blue Devils on each roster were talking about was Tuesday’s night game that pitted their former schools against each other.
The Duke freshmen quartet of Tre Jones, Cam Reddish, Zion Williamson, and RJ Barrett combined to score 89 points in No. 4 Duke’s 118-84 rout of No. 2 Kentucky in Tuesday’s nights Champion Classic in Indianapolis.
The loss was the biggest margin of defeat in coach John Calipari’s coaching career, as it gave the Blue Devils their eighth win over Kentucky in the 10 times the two powerhouse programs have met.
“Duke is like the Golden State of the NCAAs,” Knicks center Enes Kanter told the New York Daily News, as he finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds.
“They (Kentucky) gotta get better,” said Kanter with a laugh. “It was a tough loss of course, but I think it’s still too early. I know what Coach (John) Calipari will do, and they’re just going to get better and better.”
Before Kanter was the third overall pick in the 2011 draft, he spent a year in Lexington with the Wildcats, despite never being able to suit up for them. The NCAA declared Kanter ineligible because he received too much money when he played in Turkey, and the funds were deemed as “excessive benefits.”
To make matters worse for Kentucky on Tuesday, the duo of Barrett and Williamson both broke Marvin Bagley III’s, Duke’s freshman sensation from last season, record for points by a Blue Devil freshman in his debut at 25.
According to multiple early NBA mock drafts, Barrett, Reddish, and Williamson are believed to potentially be the first three players off the board next summer, and the Knicks and Hawks are expected to be sitting atop the lottery.
“Come on,” Knicks forward Lance Thomas said smiling when asked about the possibility of one of them being playing in New York.
“That’s a special team right there. They looked really good.”
Thomas was a starter on Duke’s 2010 national championship team, and said that he started talking trash to his Kentucky teammates as soon as the game was over.
“I already let Kevin (Knox) and Enes (Kanter) how I felt about the game,” he explained.
“They got the best of us last night. But like I told Lance (Thomas), it’s only one game. They have a lot of games left, but they (Duke) looked really good last night,” Knox told the Daily News “It’s definitely a rivalry and we’ve talked a lot of trash, but they got us.”
According to Knox each of the guys watched the game separately because it’s better to be alone for games of this magnitude so can yell at the TV in private. And for Knox, the game was a matchup of the two programs who were at the top of his list, as he ultimately decided to be a Wildcat over a Blue Devil.
“Every time I see their (Duke) coaches I always say hello to them and we have conversations,” said Knox about the relationship he built with both coaching staffs. “Every time there’s a birthday I send them a text, or they send me a text. There are no hard feelings in recruiting. They all know it’s a business, and you have to do what’s best for your family and yourself.”
“I’m just happy I got to the right school and got to the league.”
Former Wildcat and current Hawks forward Alex Poythress was also in shock of the final score from Tuesday night’s game.
Back in 2012, Poythress played in the Champion’s Classic against Duke in the old Georgia Dome in Atlanta, and led his team with 20 points and 8 rebounds, in a 75-68 loss to the Blue Devils.
“It’s good for young guys because they get that big-time exposure right off the back,” Poythress told the Daily News about the importance of the annual event. “You know that the intensity level is going to be up in those games because this isn’t high school anymore. It helps you later down the road for tournament time and you know how to handle things.”
Poythress scored 4 points in 8 minutes of action on Wednesday night for the Hawks, as Knox was held scoreless.
Thomas was sidelined with soreness in his left knee.